Sports

Thursday, May 17 2012 08:12 PM

Amgen excitement draws diverse crowd of onlookers

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    By CaseyChristie /The Californian

    Students and teachers from the Child Life Learning Center walk through College Park, Thursday, after viewing the sights and sounds of the Amgen on the Bakersfield College campus. They were heading back to their school grounds after an action-packed morning field trip.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    Lots of bicycles and lots of traffic were seen Thursday along Mt. Vernon Avenue as many participated in the Amgen events.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    Some unusual sights were seen around town Thursday as the Amgen race came to Bakersfield. This section of Mt. Vernon Avenue was closed off to through traffic. A neutral race support worker rides a motorcycle with several wheels on the back.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    The Bakersfield Police Department monitored traffic and road closures Thursday along Mt. Vernon Avenue for the Amgen time trials in Bakersfield.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    The Bakersfield College campus was bustling with spectators and vendors during the time trials of the Amgen event.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    Zac Roberts lets his dad, Bill, have a taste of his snow cone, during the Amgen time trials at the Bakersfield College campus Thursday. They are from Santa Maria.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    It pays to advertise. This lady wearing a Subway sandwich costume kept busy, Thursday, drumming up business for the sandwich company on the Bakersfield College campus during the Amgen time trials.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    Thousands were in attendance, Thursday, at Bakersfield College for the Amgen event.

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    By Casey Christie /The Californian

    Vendors were set up for Thursday's big race in Bakersfield.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

The Amgen Tour of California drew its share of bike racing enthusiasts to watch the time trials in Bakersfield Thursday, but it also lured people who were new to professional cycling.

Colleen Toler, 30, of Bakersfield, checked out the action under the shade of a tree, accompanied by her son, daughter and husband.

"It just seemed like it would be fun to come out and see people who know what they're doing," she said. "It's always fun to see the top people in any sport, whatever it is."

Then there were people such as Frank Varvaro, 65, a longtime cycling devotee who came all the way from Seattle to not only watch the trials, but also ride the course in the preceding race for amateurs.

"It's an amazing course," he said after finishing. "It's very fast on the front half, but the back half is going to be pretty challenging. When you get to the last uphill, you're going to be sucking hot air. It's like standing in front of a furnace."

Visitors from all over the world were treated to a high of 95 degrees in Bakersfield on Thursday.

Some, such as Fletch Newland, didn't mind. The marketing manager for high-end bicycle components maker Full Speed Ahead said he welcomed the bright, clear day.

"I'm from Seattle," he said while manning his employer's booth. "I don't get sun like this."

There were a total of 243 vendors at the Amgen festival on the campus of Bakersfield College. Of those, 23 were local and the rest were national or regional sponsors in the Lifestyle Festival that travels with the tour.

There were all manner of bicycle manufacturers, of course. And you could buy official memorabilia (an Amgen bicycle jersey set you back $80).

But there were community service and health and fitness exhibitors, too. And food, of course, lots of food.

Ben & Jerry's catering manager Jeff Reynolds brought plenty of treats to keep spectators cool.

Reynolds and his crew lugged 20 tubs of ice cream, each holding five gallons, to a tent in the local festival area. He also had 40 chocolate-covered frozen bananas ready for purchase.

If the blazing sun wasn't enough to make you thirsty, 8-year-old Hyrum Hansen did his best by shouting, "Waaaateeeer! Ice cold waaaaateeeeer!" at spectators along the Panorama Drive segment of the route.

Beneath a tent erected at Panorama Drive and Haley Street, Southern Sierra Council Boy Scouts of America Pack 99 sold bottled water donated by Amgen to raise money for the scouts to attend day camp.

They sold water the last time Amgen came to town, too, and were aiming to tie or beat their last record of 200 bottles (at $2 apiece.)

Bike Bakersfield was nearby passing out literature to spectators on the health and environmental benefits of bike riding and guarding the bicycles of about 200 people who had ridden to the event and parked there.

Executive director Tina Chapa said she was glad for the opportunity to get the message out.

"I think an event like this definitely gets the whole community excited about cycling," she said. "I mean, we have people here all the way from Europe."

Pat and Tom Shaffer, of Lancaster, had a prime spot at the finish line that they secured by arriving early.

"I've watched them on television but I've never seen a time trial in person," said Pat Shaffer, 58. "And we've had a great time watching the women athletes. I really prefer watching the women, but they never show them on TV."

For those without a good a view of the race, giant TV screens were set up along the route and inside the festival.

Former cycling pro Brent Payne, 45, of Palmdale, found a place on Panorama where he could see both the big screen and live riders coming down the home stretch.

"I've been following professional cycling since I was 10," he said. "It's great to have an opportunity to come up here and see it in person. It's not that far away for me and it's top caliber racing. It may not be the Tour de France, but it still has the top teams and the top riders in the American contingent."

Payne said he'd been to town before, but some out-of-towners were getting their first experience of Bakersfield.

"Those are oil fields," one spectator was overhead saying to another as she looked out toward the China Grade Loop area.

There was also a celebrity siting.

"The Amazing Race" reality show host Phil Keoghan was spotted shortly before the men's start time. Despite having hosted many amazing races, he apparently wanted to be on hand and watch another.

Cowbells, traditionally rung at bike races, were being handed out by volunteers from Action Sports.

A faux pas was committed early on in the beer tent.

There were about 16 people hoisting frosty brews when a man walked in and asked, "You got any water in here?"

"Nope," was the response of the server.

But there was a guy riding around on a Segway handing out free Popsicles. You could also win lip balm or sunscreen at a booth that had a vertical roulette wheel.

The main attraction was the race itself, of course. Carmen Guzman, 45, of Lamont, was there with her 13-year-old nephew when U.S. National Time Trial Champion Dave Zabriskie came in. She jumped, rang her cowbell and screamed.

"It's just very exciting," she said afterward, her voice a little hoarse. "I wanted to show my nephew good, positive things and show him there are many options in sports. This is just a great, great thing for the city and for the community."

John Guy, 48, of Tehachapi, said he thought civic leaders had done a great job hosting the event, and it was good for the region's profile.

"To see this type of racing in Bakersfield is incredible," he said.

-- Staff writer John Cox contributed to this report.

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